Healthy Aging

Pets for Seniors: How to Pick a Pet and Lower Your Blood Pressure

Walking a dog, playing with a cat, taking time to groom an animal and feed it—these activities and others that come with pet ownership can provide important health benefits as we age, along with companionship.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, benefits include:

  • Decreased blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels
  • Better mental health
  • More physical activity and opportunities to connect socially

More good news: Chances are, your local animal shelter has a Seniors for Seniors or Pets for Vets program. These initiatives offer benefits to people 60 and over adopting an adult animal. New York’s North Shore Animal League, for example, offers free adoption, vaccinations and grooming, along with discounts on other services.

Where to start?  Talk to your pet-owning friends, for sure—and then go online to get a broader range of info. We’ve looked for the best sites for would-be pet owners, as well as great online resources you can use after you’ve brought your pet home.

Picking a Pet

Before you head for the nearest shelter, you’ll need to do your research so you can make sure the pet you pick is the right choice for your circumstances, living situation, fitness level and budget.

Get Real, sponsored by the American Animal Hospital Association, suggests you ask yourself these questions before settling on a dog or cat:

  • Are you willing and physically able to care for a dog, including grooming and exercising? Can you better manage a less demanding animal like a cat?
  • Can you handle the barking and messes that a dog can make?
  • Will your budget support the cost of owning a pet (veterinarian visits, immunizations, food)?
  • Do you have a plan if you have to enter a nursing home or move to a no-pets  apartment?

The site also has pet care info.

Discuss breeds

Pet-owner forums are good places to get advice from canine-owning seniors on a range of topics, including pet choice. If you’re looking for a dog, check out Dog Chat’s forums. Browse the discussions and ask questions. Some of the things we learned: If you’re looking for a puppy, think again; you might not have the patience for housebreaking and behavioral training. Are you thinking a pocketbook dog, such as a Chihuahua, will be more manageable than a larger breed? Size might not matter when it comes to energy level.

The site also has valuable articles, including “Choosing a Dog for the Older Person,” which offers a word advice we didn’t see elsewhere: When you’re considering a specific dog, ask to take a walk with it either alone or with someone else who’s new to the pet. This way, you’ll see if you can still handle your pet-to-be when it’s exposed to a range of stimuli and unfamiliar situations.

Dogster’s message board helped one senior who longed to adopt a particular dog but wondered if an older animal might make more sense. His post prompted an outpouring of encouragement to follow his heart and also opened a discussion about the heartbreak of losing an animal member of the family. has forums for cat owners that are less active than their dog forum counterparts but might prove useful, especially if you have questions after adoption. The site’s articles include a useful look at good cat breeds for apartment dwellers; many of the qualities these cats possess—easy-going, soft-spoken, not too active, sociable—will be ones you’re looking for, too.

Select Your Pet

The Australian site Petnet is on a mission to promote “socially responsible pet ownership” – and helping users select the right breed is part of that. To do so, it offers an interactive feature called Selectapet. You enter details about your age and activity level, what type of space you live in, how much you want to spend per week and how much time you can invest, plus other factors, and it tells you which breeds of dog or cat will suit you. After we entered our details (apartment dweller, no yard, not very active, etc.), we were given a choice of Spaniel, two Terrier breeds and Poodle. Click here to select yours.

Pet Care Resources

All-around care Once you have a pet, you’re going to need pet care. At the WebMD Pet Health Community, a couple got some good advice on how to handle their 10-year old dachshund’s barking before they moved to a condo.

Training and retraining If you discover a gaping hole in your favorite flowerbed, try Clicker Training, which addresses behavioral issues in dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, horses, chickens, dolphins— any animal species— through sound-induced cues. The website offers a list of local trainers along with articles, videos, book recommendations and a blog.

Pet shrinks Canine Training Solutions offers dog-training tips and doggie parenting e-newsletters, and also can help when communications between you and your pet breaks down. Focused on gentle, reward-based training and behavior modification, the program helps to solve psychological problems like aggression, separation anxiety and fearfulness, as well as barking, digging, chewing, jumping and other negative physical behaviors via in home sessions, and phone and Skype chats.

Pet Health Check The Animal Medical Center is New York’s premier facility for specialized veterinarian services, offers state-of-the-art health care programs for dogs, cats and exotic pets, but wherever you’re based, you can get online answers about medical conditions and traditional and alternative treatment options from veterinary experts. The site also features a pet health checklist that helps you evaluate your pet’s medical condition before heading to the vet.

Although you’ll find some good pet-care info online, always consult your veterinarian to verify any information you find there.

What’s your choice—cat, dog or “other”?



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